8 More Women Who Revolutionized the Film Industry 

Women have steadily risen above barriers to create some of the most successful movies of all time, including the 2023 summer blockbuster Barbie. We have explored the stories of women in film before; here, we pay homage to eight more women who revolutionized the film industry. 

1. Ava DuVernay

Director, writer, and producer Ava DuVernay started out as a publicist, but she had a vision to make audiences feel deeply while exploring stories that had been left out of mainstream media. Some of her more well-known works, such as Selma and When They See Us, showcase the legacies of racism and resistance in the United States. 

DuVernay’s goal for her movies, as she discusses in this 2022 interview, is to amplify voices that are typically unheard. She combats demeaning stereotypes often used for Black characters in films by highlighting multidimensional and complex people in the Black community, telling the full breadth of their stories rather than rooting them in trauma. Her characters are given space to be vulnerable and expressive.

DuVernay received three Emmy nominations for When They See Us, and her show, Queen Sugar, has been recognized with multiple Image Awards. She is currently working on a TV movie called The Battle of Versailles about a 1973 fashion show in which American newcomers took on fashion’s elite. 

2. Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig started her career as a writer and an actress, but she has quickly become known for directing critically acclaimed movies including Lady Bird and Barbie.

Gerwig is known for taking risks in her films, blending genres, and writing complex female characters who are more than just a love interest or a mother figure. In her version of Little Women, Gerwig tells the classic story in a non-linear format, shifting from childhood to the present day to allow viewers to see how each character’s early life impacted them in adulthood. 

The modern film industry is still a challenging place for female directors, yet Gerwig managed to propel Barbie to become one of the most successful movies of all time with clever storytelling, brilliant sets, and a funny and powerful narrative.

3. Ida Lupino

Born to a show business family from London, Ida Lupino made a name for herself in Hollywood as an actor and director in the 1930s.

Lupino made her big-screen debut in 1932 with Her First Affaire, and is well-known for films such as High Sierra and On Dangerous Ground. But after fighting for complex roles more worthy of her talents, she was eventually suspended by her studio. 

In the late 1940s, however, she took matters into her own hands, becoming a director and independent filmmaker at a time in which that was practically unheard of for a woman. Her directorial debut, Not Wanted, came by chance when the original director had a heart attack in the early stages of the movie. Lupino shot the movie on a small budget in a documentary style to save money.

She tackled multiple controversial themes in her movies from unwed mothers to polio, which she had in the 1930s. She was the second woman to be admitted into the Director’s Guild, — after Dorothy Arzner — and helped pave the way in the years to come. 

4. Penny Marshall

Penny Marshall may be known to many as Laverne DeFazio in Laverne & Shirley, but she also saw great success as a director in her extensive career.

In 1988, Marshall directed the Tom Hanks movie Big, which became the first movie directed by a woman to gross over $100 million. Her 1992 movie A League of Their Own also broke the $100 million mark at the box office. She was only the second woman to be recognized by the Academy with a Best Picture nomination, for the movie Awakenings

Marshall eventually became well-respected for her filmmaking abilities following her successes in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but her success did not come easy. She was constantly on a quest to prove herself as a filmmaker and did so by telling heartfelt stories that resonated with audiences. 

5. Rita Moreno

Since her film debut in the 1950s, Rita Moreno has been a fixture in Hollywood. Her natural talent and training garnered her roles in Singin’ in the Rain and West Side Story. But Moreno’s success did not come easily. 

Early in her career, she battled racism in the industry, from limited roles and type-casting to a general disdain for Puerto Ricans by industry higher-ups. However, her hard work and commitment to storytelling won over audiences all over the world. With her role in West Side Story, Moreno became the first Latina to win an Academy Award. She has since won a Tony, two Grammys, and two Emmys, making her one of the few people in Hollywood to boast EGOT status.

Moreno still tackles characters with gusto, recently gaining acclaim with her role as Lydia Riera on the One Day at a Time reboot. At over 90 years old, she is still working steadily, bringing her passion for her characters to audiences.

6. Mary Pickford

Known as one of the movie industry’s first starlets, Mary Pickford helped set the tone for modern actresses.

In its early days, film was known as a disreputable industry compared to theater, but Pickford easily transitioned from the stage to the screen. She became one of America’s first sweethearts, starring in hundreds of movies including the 1929 hit Coquette.

Pickford went on to start a production company with her husband and became one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was one of the first actresses to struggle with fame, as she was often approached by complete strangers in an era before this was commonplace in the film industry.

Pickford also used her celebrity status to promote various causes. She helped change some of early Hollywood’s exploitative business practices and started helping independent producers gain footing in the industry.

7. Virginia Van Upp

After a career in silent films, Virginia Van Upp became one of the first women to land an eExecutive pProducer role at a movie studio. She started as a scriptwriter and film editor, eventually working her way up. Van Upp got her break rewriting the script for the 1944 movie Cover Girl when the president of Columbia Pictures wanted a story that better appealed to women.

Although her career as a producer was relatively short-lived, with six credits to her name, Van Upp cemented her place in the film industry by working as one of three female executives in early Hollywood. She was known for her talent for flipping bad scripts into successful movies.

8. Anna May Wong

Born in 1905, Anna May Wong was a pioneer at the dawn of the film industry. She became one of the first Asian American actresses to gain recognition for her work in movies such as Shanghai Express.    

She got her start in silent films and appeared in one of the first Technicolor movies, an adaptation of Madame Butterfly called The Toll of the Sea. During a time in which opportunities in Hollywood were  severely limited for people of color, Wong often competed against non-Asian women for Asian parts. Throughout her career, she was often reduced to playing stereotypical characters. 

However, she never stopped advocating for representation and became an inspiration to other Asian actors. Recently, Wong was recognized for her contributions to the film industry as part of the American Women Quarters program.

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